Euros by any other name

This article first appeared in the Donegal Democrat

Have you managed the euro conversion yet?

No, I don’t mean he onerous task of converting all our notes and coins to euros. Lets be honest, most of us took a bit more cash than usual from the ATM on New Years Eve, in case the banks had problems switching over, had it spent by the weekend, and were working in euros by week two.

Bar the few coppers lying under the sofa, which we gave to the charities, that was the end of that. Apart from a few old hill farmers who trust the mattress more than the bank manager, nobody in the country had a pound to their name after he feast of the Epiphany.

And no, I don’t mean getting used to thinking in the new values either. Dividing by four and multiplying by five is childsplay to a people who went through the bother of metrication. Quarters and fifths are nothing compared to dividing by 2.54 to get from centimetres to inches.

All that stuff is second nature to us. I’m talking about the real conversion question. What’s the plural of euro? Is it euro and cent, or euros and cents?

An EU directive (No. 1103/97 of 17 June 1997, if you really want to know) does say that the name of the currency must be the same in all official languages of the Union.

But even the EU itself isn’t sure what this means. The English Style Guide of the European Commission Translation Service tells its writers that outside legal texts, “and especially in documents intended for the general public, use the natural plural with ‘s’ for both terms.”

Sadly its looks like we’re stuck with the unnatural form. Charlie McCreevy sprinkled his last Budget speech with references to euro, not euros. Maybe he was making up for thumbing his nose at the EU with his budget of a year earlier.

Or maybe it was a collective cabinet decision. Even Bertie Ahern, whose every Dublin-accented word is a testament to the refusal to surrender to perceived norms on matters linguistic, is ‘on message’. The idea is spreading.

Weirdest of all is the government decision to translate (or rather, not translate) the new currency into Irish. Irish isn’t an official EU language, so whatever justification there might be for messing with the rules of English grammar, there is no reason at all to do so in Irish. To pronounce the words correctly in Irish, they should be spelt eorá and ceint.

For those who are wondering, eorá is a fourth declension feminine noun, plural eoránna, and ceint is fourth declension masculine, plural ceinteanna.

The real problem, or course, isn’t the weird plural, but the word itself. If ever there was an uninspired name, its euro. The single currency was supposed to be Europe’s Big Idea.

Subsidiarity and farm price harmonisation may be worthy topics, but they don’t exactly grab the imagination. The euro was supposed to do that, giving every European citizen concrete evidence of the benefits of the Common Market in their pocket.

Someone, somewhere, should have come up with a catchy name for the thing. Instead, a committee conceived a name duller than ditchwater.

It’s time to strike out on our own. The hell with the Eurocrats, we need a catchy name for our money. A dollar is a buck, a pound is a quid, why should a euro be just a euro? Irish isn’t an official EU language.

Lets just use an Irish word all the time, same as we always say Taoiseach instead of Prime Minister. Think of it as a way to make up for voting No to Nice.

Fadó fadó in Ireland, when our laws were written by brehons, we had a virtual currency. Gaelic chiefs settled debts, bought and sold cattle, and generally took care of business in a currency called the cumal. A cumal was a female slave, equal in value to three cows.

But even after women’s rights were established in Ireland by St Adomnán, the cumal was still used to measure land, cattle, and property. It was never a piece of paper, there was never a note printed or coin minted, it was a truly virtual currency. On top of that, it was used throughout Ireland, which at the time was divided up into independent kingdoms.

In fact, it was a bit like the euro between 1999 and 2002, when the values of the old money were fixed but the new money didn’t physically exist yet.

You never know, it might catch on. It will appeal to all the people worried about losing monetary sovereignty, because at least we’ll control what we call the thing. Gaeilgeoirs, New Agers, nationalists, and republicans of various shades will be enthusiastic about the nod in the general direction of the first official language.

That’s my two cumals worth anyway.